Various Artists: Introducing Townes Van Zandt via the Great Unknown (For the Sake of the Song)

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Loophole and Ciaran Kirby: Lungs
Various Artists: Introducing Townes Van Zandt via the Great Unknown (For the Sake of the Song)

The late Van Zandt is hardly the little-known cult artist he once was: there are many tribute albums (Steve Earle most recently) and his estate must coin it in from all the covers alt.country artists do.

Most of Van Zandt’s originals were spare, lowkey and acoustic -- so the surprise here is what an embellishing or reconfiguring approach some of these largely unknown artists or cult figures take. Townes followers will double-take when Sweden’s Thomas Denver Jonsson re-jigs the delicate ballad To Live is to Fly.

Among the better-known names in the multi-national cast are J. Tillman (a sometimes Fleet Fox on a breath-catching My Proud Mountains), the Be Good Tanyas (a dreamy, banjo-backporch Waiting Around to Die), Jad Fair (a typically odd Turnstyled Junkpiled), Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time (a straight Pancho and Lefty) and Chicago’s Chris Mills (Tecumseh Valley)

You sense that for some Van Zandt’s song is incidental to their style -- but certainly Christina Kulukundis, Howie Gelb’s protégé Kate Maki, Gustav Haggren (also from Sweden’s alt.country cabal), Sydney’s aching Telafonica and Kevin Tihista (swelling guitar-pop on Still Looking For You) indicate they understand the man and his music.

A calling card for the unfamiliar names, but Van Zandt’s own albums are where to the real art lies.

You might like to compare the Loophole and Ciaran Kirby sample track (above) with the same song at the Steve Earle link.

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